3hree Things: Essential iPhone Apps For Touring Musicians (Or People Who Often Find Themselves Disoriented In An Unfamiliar City Every Morning)

Watch out for 3hree Things every Tuesday, where Riley Breckenridge, drummer of Orange County's favorite local alt-rock band Thrice, gives his take on life in Southern California, being an OC native and, of course, music.
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I'm lucky (and eternally grateful) to be able to travel as much as I do for work, but to be honest, I'm not much of a traveler. I'm a hermit. I love my house, I love my own toilet, I love my favorite local restaurants, and I love my bookshelf, magazine rack, and home studio/internet portal.

The rub is that I can't take all of that with me when I'm out on tour, waking up in a new city every day. Since the advent of the smartphone (an ironic name, because it's actually made me dumber and less resourceful, but that's a tome for another day) the absence of creature comforts has become a little easier to cope with. And since there's an app for everything but getting iPhone users to shut the fuck up about their new phones, I present you with the following three essential apps that have made traveling/touring a whole lot easier for me.

1) Sit Or Squat

Those of you that are familiar with my oft feces-riddled Twitter account and prior blogging efforts are well-aware that I have a mild obsession with poop and it's kin. I'm realize that this may come across as immature, given that I'm a 35-year-old man, but I assure you that this obsession (read: my inner 12-year-old) does not exist without good reason.

You see, on tour, I've realized (based on independent, unprofessional studies) that roughly 23 percent of my waking hours are centered around finding a suitable place to donate the previous day's dining and drinking adventures to whatever lucky city's sewage system I happen to be in. That's a hefty chunk of my day. If playing music is priority No. 1 on tour, poopage is No. 1b.

It used to be quite a challenge, this toilet search. I'd wake up every morning in an unfamiliar place with fuel burning in the pipes (prairie-dogging, having-one-on-deck, needing-to-do-some-paperwork, whatever the preferred euphemism might be) and with load-in a few hours away, I'd be left to fend/find for myself. Thankfully, I was introduced to Sit Or Squat on this last tour, and it's made my morning duties far less stressful. It's a directory of functional public toilets laid out on google maps, complete with reviews, ratings, and tips (on how to access the restroom and what amenities are available, not on how to conduct your business. You're still on your own for that.) It's a life-saver and a game-changer, like having a poopy Sherpa in your pocket.

Other options

a) Auto-Intoxication (aka Death By Constipation)- Currently No. 2 on the Least Noble Ways To Perish list (that I just made up) behind Yawning To Death.

b) "Shibagging It" (aka shitting in a trash bag)- This is essentially a what an assertive hobo would do,  and if you (read: not a hobo) do this on a tour bus or in a van, you're headed for your bandmates' shit list.

c) Running around town, striding carefully, cheeks clenched, sweating, hoping and praying that you find a public establishment that won't give you the stock, "We don't have a restroom" line- I KNOW YOU DON'T WORK AN EIGHT HOUR SHIFT WITHOUT GOING TO THE BATHROOM, YOU LIAR. I WILL COP A SQUAT ON THIS COUNTER AND GROW A STINKY TAIL NEXT TO YOUR CASH REGISTER.

Serenity now...serenity now...sere-


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2) Yelp 

I'm sure that most, if not all, of you are familiar with Yelp. I was probably less familiar with it than most, because at home I tend to rely on word-of-mouth, food blogs, and print articles to get restaurant reviews, and only turned to Yelp on tour because I access to my usual cache of print and online media is pretty inconsistent. The common, and legitimate, gripe with Yelp seems to be that it's hard to get a legitimate review because you're forced to sift through hundreds of bullshit reviews written by people with varying levels of uselessness in order to find anything of value (a phenomenon that was excellently laid out in this must-read Urlesque piece entitled, 13 Useless Yelp Users, And How You Can Avoid Being One - A Field Guide.)

On the other end of the problem spectrum, if you end up in a small town with very few Yelp users in it, you get stuck in the "3.5 Zone." That's where every single "restaurant" in the area, from McDonalds to Applebee's to the family owned Italian joint, has a 3.5 rating. The problem with this is that you never really know what you're getting, but you do kind of know that you're choosing the lesser of all evils, which makes selecting a restaurant basically come down to choosing what color diarrhea you'd like to have. Again, see app suggestion No. 1.

Other options

a) TV Diner - an app that maps out restaurants that have been featured on Throwdown with Bobby Flay; Diner, Drive-ins, & Dives; Man vs. Food; PBS's Sandwiches You Will Like; and PBS's A Hot Dog Program. All of which are high-risk dining experiences and further necessitate the Sit Or Squat app. Use at your own risk.

b) Relying on the local crew for suggestions - "I think there's an Arby's a couple blocks away." Beef should never be best described as "green." Pass. 

c) Wandering around town trying to judge a restaurant that is worthy of your patronage by it's storefront- Wandering is a killer, because on tour (or if you're on a business trip) you're usually on a pretty tight schedule. In the time it takes you to wander, find, and settle on something, you could have used Yelp, sat down, and had a quality meal in a relaxed atmosphere. Judging a restaurant by it's looks won't cut it either. Example: Chipotle looks like shining beacon of brushed steel, brick, hardwood and plump burrito-ey goodness, but it'll run through you like a pint of Drano. And Gabbi's, just south of the Orange Circle, is virtually nondescript from the outside, but has some of Orange County's best Mexican food on the inside. Don't do it with books. Don't do it with restaurants.


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3) Words With Friends

The Scrabble aficionados I know are a bit sour on this app because while it's similar to Scrabble, it isn't actually Scrabble. Go figure. (Apparently, the official Scrabble app is apparently not much like real Scrabble either, and is bogged down by freezing, unnecessary rule changes, and slow-loading pages. These are the things that keep Scrabbologists up at night.) The rest of us, including WIRED readers that voted it the Favorite app of 2009, love it. I've been playing for a little over a year, and I'm still hooked. It's a fantastic time-consumer while you're attending to the business that is made so easy by Sit Or Squat (case in point, the number of push notifications ["Your move with Dictionarybreath666!"] that I get once the venues doors have opened for load-in and our crew and tourmates have made their mad dashes towards the venues facilities) and it's easy enough to use that you're not waiting five minutes for sign-in screens and multiple pages to load. It's also a fantastic time-waster if you're using public transportation, waiting for a flight to board, waiting for a table, bored, or have no friends.

Other options

a) Angry Birds -  Who doesn't like breaking things, blowing stuff up, cartoon birds, physics, and logic? It's the No. 1 paid app in 60 countries for a reason. Proceed with caution, this one is a soul-sucker.

b) Reading a book - God forbid you actually feed your brain some literary goodness and exercise your imagination. 

c) Socializing with living, breathing human beings - Wait, what? Real people? Can't I just use the Facetime feature on my iPhone 4?

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